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Teamwork and leadership in Loddon Mallee

By: Patrick O'Brien

  11.00 AM 2 March, 2012

Views: 4498

Loddon Mallee Region has conducted a number of teamwork and leadership courses at Hattah in the last couple of months. These always provide an invaluable opportunity for discussion amongst participants about what good teamwork and leadership really mean, how best to lead and what a good team looks and feels like.

I have particularly found the exchanges of views, experience and ideas at the leadership courses to be of great personal value. It's been very instructive for me, as always, to see how others go about exercising leadership. The debriefs we conduct, after each participant has a go at leading the team through a mission, have produced some deep and meaningful exchanges.

We use, as part of the leadership program a short, inspirational DVD presented by a certain Dewitt Jones. He was, for many years, a photographer for the American National Geographic magazine and, as a photographer, developed a unique perspective about how to view the world, nature and mankind.

He makes many insightful comments about a personal attitude or frame of mind. Amongst these is the concept of a focus on individual service; of seeking to be "the best for the world" rather than trying to be the "best in the world".

This doesn't mean to imply that we should not strive for excellence. Striving for excellence provides the inspiration to seek to achieve our potential. It allows us to persevere when the going gets tough.

Dewitt Jones' insight concerns what motivates us: our own ambition or desire for recognition, in the first instance, or our strong desire to serve others, which is implied by the second.

I relate this idea of "being the best for the world" to our role as leaders. Why does any one of us take on this role of leader? What continues to motivate us as leaders? I want to suggest that being motivated by a desire to serve others is much more likely to produce a highly effective leadership style than one motivated by a self-focussed desire for recognition, or personal authority or influence.

We are all members of an organisation which serves others. That motivation can also underpin our approach to leadership.

We have all heard the saying that "there is no ‘i' in team". In other words, the individual must be prepared to sacrifice some of his or her own needs or wants for the sake of the team.

When we approach leadership with the aim of serving the members of the team, we naturally subordinate ourselves to the team and the mission or purpose. In other words, our perspective changes to one in which we seek to support the team, to look after the team's needs, to move away from a focus on our own individual needs or preferences, so that the whole team is in the best position to perform its role, to achieve its mission.

A desire to serve is more likely to help us to value difference (most often those who are different to us), to value the contributions of all team members, to help the team to find the best solution to any problem; actually to allow the team to achieve its potential.

Serving as a leader implies tolerance, patience, perseverance and humility. It allows us to see the potential in others rather than simply their limitations or faults.

Coupled with this view of being the best for the world is another of Dewitt Jones' insights which concerns our openness to possibility, an openness to what the world, or a situation, or an individual, has to offer. He refers to the old saying, "I won't believe it until I see it," and suggests we should turn this on its head to become, "I won't see it until I believe it".

Simply put, this means I won't see the potential in a situation, or in other people, unless I believe that it will be there and that I can discover it. How often do we assume that something can't be done, or achieved, or someone doesn't have it in them to do a particular thing? Sporting and military teams, and obviously farmers, know very well that unless they can positively visualise the achievement of their goal they have no chance of actually reaching it.

As leaders, we need to believe that we and the team can achieve what we want to. This belief has the power to inspire the team, to educate it about its own potential. It also has the power to allow the leader to find a way to deal with just about any challenge, to open up possibilities which, otherwise, he or she would never have imagined.

I recently heard a speaker on the subject of teamwork and leadership suggest that the effective leader displayed two characteristics: firstly, a genuine concern for, and knowledge of, the members of the team which went beyond their working relationship, and, secondly, a strong focus on achievement of the mission.

While there are thousands of experts' views on leadership and teamwork, I thought this one implied the essence of the relationship between the leader and the team: that is, the leader, through a focus on and effective relationships with the team, is able to realise team potential and, through perseverance and commitment, the team is able to achieve the mission.

Openness to possibility steers us away from stereotyping ourselves and others. It prompts us to look for the potential in others as well as in the situations we face as teams. Our innate desire to help others, expressed as a desire to serve, coupled with a belief that possibilities will open up to us if we believe that they actually exist, will equip us to be effective leaders as well as team members.

The other great advantage of trying to be the best for the world, while simultaneously open to possibility, is that it feels a whole lot better than the alternatives. This approach can help us to find happiness and self-fulfilment. Why not give it a try?

Last Updated: 10 December 2015